DC Adventures Heroes and Villains, volume 1

Darn, I love this book. With over 300 pages of wonderful artwork from the best that DC comics can bring, plus full game stats for a metric shedload of iconic comicbook heroes and villains (not to mention sidekicks, lackeys and kickass butlers), there’s an awful lot to love too. There’s just a couple of minor niggles to cloud the clear blue sky of perfection, but that’s nothing compared to so much it gets right.

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Let’s start with just the facts. DC Adventures Heroes & Villains volume 1 is 321 pages and contains full colour artwork from 75 years of comic history throughout. There’s around 350 statblocks for everyone from Abra Kadabra to The Wizard. While the tome covers the letters A to K (hence the volume 1 in the title), this includes well known (and not so well known) groups such as the Justice Society of America and the Doom Patrol. These rosters contain members spread across the whole alphabet, and it’s good to see them grouped by allegiance this way rather than in strict alphabetical order. Generally speaking, if the character is more well known because of their team membership, that’s where you will find them.

Taking my own favourite Justice Society as an example. In that entry you will find stats for Amazing Man, Lightning, Ma Hunkel and (the sadly underrated) Mister America while Jay Garrick (the original and best Flash) and Alan Scott (the original and best Green Lantern) are filed under The Flash and Green Lantern entries respectively. The only omission I can see is Jesse Quick, who could have been in the JSA entry, alongside Hourman (they’re married) or even in the Justice League as she has since joined that team. Presumably she’ll be in volume 2 as her other alter-ego, Liberty Belle.

This book is no mean feat. As well as covering the A-grade heroes and villains (Batman, Green Lantern (Guy, Hal, Kyle, John and Alan), Green Arrow, Black Canary, The Joker, Darkseid, etc) it also pays homage to the heroes and villains of yesteryear and those characters that aren’t quite to well known. We have the Blackhawk Squadron (I would so play the heck out of a Blackhawk campaign!), Air Wave, Animal Man, the Injustice Society of Amerika, Crimson Avenger and a whole host of others that bring a tear to the eye. I would have liked to see more entries from the Green Lantern Corps (no Kilowog!! Noooo!!!)  but perhaps that means a complete Green Lantern supplement is in the works. I live in hope.

I’m a little disappointed at the number of duplicates between this book and DC Adventures Hero’s Handbook. I can understand repeating and expanding the entries for Batman, The Flash and Green Lantern, but why repeat the Joker, Catwoman, Cheetah, Braniac and Gorilla Grodd? I would rather these pages were used to give us new heroes and villains, not repeats of ones we already have, and especially not with repeated artwork and layout.

Some of the heroes (and villains) have the correct points values for a character of their Power Level. For example Captain Boomerang is Power Level 10 and comes in at exactly 150 points meaning he could be used as-is as a PC in a starting villain-themed PL10 game. By “some” though, I mean “not many”. I know the points values reflect that character’s experience and personal development over and above that of another hero of that Power Level, but I would have either liked to see more heroes come ready to play, or sidebar suggestions to make them so. It’s silly that Hawk is all set up at PL10/150p while Dove isn’t. That said, I don’t think there’s many DCA/M&M GMs who wouldn’t just let you play ‘em anyway, and points cost be damned.

See, now it sounds like I’m complaining and criticising the product, and I’m really not. This is a brilliant, wonderful tome that is a worthy addition to anyone’s bookshelf whether they are a gamer or comic fan. These are very minor gripes compared to the scope of the book as a whole. This is a tome where you can compare the different capabilities of all the Flashes, play as Firestorm or pit your players against the Gentleman Ghost. What’s not to love?

 

Ah, but what about Flashpoint?

I’m glad you asked.

(Warning: here be spoilers)

For those that don’t know, Flashpoint is DC Comics’ currently running saga where the Reverse Flash has travelled back in time and changed many of the key events in the superhero timeline. Among other things: Abin Sur did not die when his ship crashed to Earth (and thus, Hal Jordan never became the Green Lantern), Superman’s flying crib crash landed on Metropolis and he was captured by the US Government, the Justice Society did not form in World War II and Bruce Wayne was shot in crime alley, prompting his father John Wayne…. I mean Thomas Wayne (though the image of John Wayne as Batman is now stuck in your head, isn’t it?)….. to become an older, harsher Batman. Oh, and there’s World War IV going on between Aquaman’s Atlantis and Wonder Woman’s Themis Themys island.

It’s not so much a reboot as an extended What If? that takes a long hard look at how the cornerstone events of DC’s history have shaped and re-shaped the world around them. DC have said that “in a year or two” history will heal (probably caused by The Flash fixing things with a Cosmic Treadmill or something) but in the meantime this is an utterly brilliant and unexpected piece of story-telling. 

(Spoiler warning ends)

I’ve thought long and hard about the answer to this one. After all, if everything has changed, doesn’t that sort of invalidate the entire of this book the very moment it’s been released?

Nope. If anything, it puts the book in an even stronger position. The key heroes (Flash, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Superman) are still stat valid, even though their motivations and backstories (and indeed, secret identities) had changed. All of the other heroes and villains – they’re yours for the taking. With no Justice Society, your heroes could unite to become the Justice Society in response to the current war. Grab the stats for Ice and she’s yours, because right now she doesn’t exist, or recast the Kobra organization as freedom fighters. Go wild. Dice Monkey is right. Flashpoint is an ideal opportunity to make the DC Universe your own playground sandbox, and this book is the keys to the kingdom. 

On a final note, Green Ronin really know how to put together a good Table of Contents, Index and Appendix. The Contents pages list each entry in alphabetical order (highlighting those points-accurate characters in green), and the Index lists each character (including those sub-listed under another heading) in order. The Appendices lists the entries for Heroes & Villains in descending order of Power Level, and another just lists Villains. There’s no such thing as “I can’t find it” with a Green Ronin book, and it’s that attention to detail which makes it one of my favourite RPG publishers on the planet.

Well done.

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8 Responses

  1. Pun says:

    I can’t wait to have a hard copy of this.

    From what I’ve read, JonL has said that the deal with DC is still for four books only. However, Killowog and some of the alien lanterns could appear in the DC Adventures: Universe book.

  2. RisusMonkey says:

    Great review. Alas, my book still seems to be stuck in Amazon hell. I wonder when it will finally appear on my doorstep.

  3. I totally loved the DC Adventures book and Mutants & Masterminds is an excellent quick paced system. The artwork on this line of books alone is reason to buy. Your point about perhaps a few sidebar suggestions would go along way. Personally I feel those sort of things give us an insight into the designer’s mind. Great Review. Thanks.

  4. Chris says:

    I think the reasoning for duplicating characters is so that this book could be used equally by DCA and M&M people. I could be talking out of my ass, I do that often.

  5. Darktouch says:

    I really do like the the Flashpoint universe and would love to see someone run a game in it. DCnU will be interesting as well when that kicks in from what I heard the writeups in this book are generic enough that the changes shouldn’t contradict too much of what’s in the DCnU.

    But the real question is, what stat changes would be necessary for the Flashpoint Superman and Joker ;-)

  6. Siskoid says:

    It’s an awesome looking book, and it surprised me with its number of write-ups, often folded into main entries. It’s the closest we’ll come to a post-90s Who’s Who (a promise DC didn’t make good on last year).

    You’re right, of course. Flashpoint doesn’t mean these stats are useless. It means you can now take DC characters in any direction you want. I’d personnally ignore Flashpoint and continue the post-Crisis universe to whatever continuining adventures/conclusions come to mind or develop in play. There’s no continuity to contradict anymore, so no reason to sticking to the status quo.

  1. September 13, 2011

    […] I'll share which characters I picked and why. My approach is similar to that taken by the very cool DC Adventures: Heroes and Villains, Vol. 1. This entry was posted in Comic books & […]

  2. September 16, 2011

    […] other things, I picked up a few role-playing supplements (including the aforementioned DC Adventures: Heroes and Villains, Vol. 1) at Pandemonium Books & Games and the Compleat Strategist. We had […]

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